FORT WAYNE – Game 1 went to Santa Cruz, whose inside game gave it the inside track in the best-of-three D-League playoff series with the Mad Ants.
With two Ants fouling out and another with four fouls trying to stop the Warriors’ inside presence, Santa Cruz rode the 34-point performance of 6-foot-10 center Jeremy Tyler to a 124-118 victory in the opening-round series Wednesday before 1,420 fans at Memorial Coliseum.
The playoff series resumes with Game 2 at 10 p.m. Saturday in Santa Cruz, Calif. Should the Ants win, Game 3 will be at 9 p.m. Sunday.
It was the first-ever postseason game for the Mad Ants, who recovered from a 3-10 start to qualify for the playoffs.
Three and 10’s a lot deeper hole than 0-1, so we’ll go out there and give it our best shot, Ants coach Duane Ticknor said. We’re looking forward to the trip.
But there will have to be some changes.
Once the Ants recovered from a 17-point third-quarter deficit (79-62), they gained their composure and regained the lead when guard Ron Howard, making his return after missing seven games with a wrist injury, dropped two free throws to give the Ants a 97-96 lead with 8:43 remaining.
Needing a bucket to quell the Fort Wayne run, Santa Cruz, on its following possession, dropped the ball into Tyler for an easy bucket out front and a 98-97 lead.
When that worked, the Warriors did it again, and again, and again, and the Mad Ants didn’t have an answer.
In less than four minutes, Tyler scored 14 of Santa Cruz’s next 18 points, as the Warriors shot the lead back to 10, 114-104.
Jeremy just kicked out butt, that’s the bottom line, and I’m sure (Santa Cruz coach Nate Bjorkgren) is over there trying to figure out how to try to stop Tony (Mitchell), Ticknor said.
Mitchell, who has already posted games of 49 and 47 points during the Ants’ playoff stretch, had 40 on Wednesday.
The 6-foot-6 rookie guard seemed calm after the loss, ready for the challenge of playing at Santa Cruz over the weekend.
You’re going to have to go on the road, anyway, so it really doesn’t matter, Mitchell said. You’ve got to go out and give it all you got and play your game.
The Ants didn’t play their game early, trailing by six, then nine in the first quarter. Fort Wayne took the lead at 41-38 to start the second quarter, but Santa Cruz, getting help with two buckets from Tyler, went up 49-41.
It was the third-quarter Santa Cruz run, however, that got Fort Wayne behind by 17, 79-62, midway through the period.
The thing that got us is we were down by 17, said Ants center Tommy Smith, who fouled out with five points. We dug a hole. We had to bounce back from that. That was the big thing. Obviously (Tyler) had a great game, but we had guys who had great games, too. I think the leading scorer in the game was on our team.